Kevin Garnett, drawing on the muscle memory of tens of thousands similar movements, leaped high and spun around for yet another fadeaway jump shot. It was the same as so many before it — and completely different and special too.
When Garnett’s shot dropped at 8:07 of the second quarter Thursday in Boston’s blowout victory over the Lakers at TD Garden, it boosted him to 25,000 points in his NBA career. More than that, by reaching the latest in his mash-up of big number thresholds — at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks — Garnett joined an elite class of … one.
Just him. That’s it. With a hat-tip to Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande for his swift Tweet noting the achievement, the fact is no one else in NBA history has bundled all those milestones into one illustrious career.
Let’s pause here to consider whether Garnett, thus, might rank even higher on the list of all-time greats than we might previously have pegged him.
(Silence. Pondering. Reflecting historically.)
“I’m sure someday when I’m rocking in a rocking chair, having a cigar or something, thinking about what I’ve done, I’m sure it will make some sense to me,” Garnett told reporters after the game.
OK, if he won’t do it now, we will: Garnett has combined longevity, durability, production and versatility like no one else in league annals. And scoring — where he now ranks 16th on the all-time NBA list — was in some ways the least of his skills or priorities, given his passion for boyhood idol Magic Johnson‘s pass-first approach (assists) and the intensity with which he embraces defense (rebounds, steals, blocks).
Across the six truly prime seasons of Garnett’s career, from 1999-2000 through 2004-05, he averaged 22.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He topped 20-10-5 each year — only Larry Bird did it as many as five times — but he did it in Minnesota, in flyover country for national media, as a 7-footer, on Timberwolves teams that surrounded him with limited help.
Was he a stats monster? Yes, but out of necessity, not merely for show. Garnett lugged the Wolves to eight straight playoff appearances from his second year in Minnesota through his ninth. At no point during his 12 seasons there did he underperform his contracts, not the controversial six-year, $126 million one that served as fuel for the 1998 lockout nor the nine-figure extension that followed.
Only when Garnett got to Boston, on the dark side of 30, did his workload lighten and his focus shift. With Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and eventually Rajon Rondo around — the highest-quality teammates he’s ever had — Garnett could focus on defense and offensive flow. He earned his precious championship ring in his first season as a Celtic — who can forget his goofy, post-Finals elation? — and was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. As his minutes dipped, he went for surgical impact rather than total game domination.
Now he stands alone atop a mountain range of stats.
Or nearly so.
The NBA portion of the record book is clear: No other player has amassed the numbers in those five categories that Garnett has. Some legends miss because they played all or part of their careers prior to 1973-74, the first season steals and blocks were recorded. Elgin Baylor might have been a candidate but he retired in November 1971. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit four of the five milestones but got no credit for steals for his first four seasons. He finished with 1,160 — and had 397 in 310 games in his fifth through eighth seasons.
Wilt Chamberlain? Though the Dipper led the NBA in assists one season and averaged 4.4 over his career, he ended with 4,643.
Hakeem Olajuwon was short on assists (3,058). Tim Duncan won’t make it in either assists (3,546) or steals (857). Oscar Robertson, the ultimate triple-double man, didn’t get any steals or blocks until his final season and didn’t reach 10,000 in rebounds (9,887).
Bill Russell didn’t score enough. Michael Jordan didn’t board or block enough. Bird and Baylor didn’t play long enough. Admittedly, Garnett got an early start coming right into the NBA from high school, but that just earns him props for guts (to do it) and good health (to last this long).
LeBron James? He has the same preps-to-pros advantage as Garnett. But halfway through his 10th season, James has blocked 621 shots. Double that for a 19-year career and he still would be 258 swats short.
Upon further review, however, there is one man who can stand toe-to-toe, if not eye-to-eye, with Garnett at this particular summit. The trick to finding him is to switch out the qualifier from “in NBA history” to “in NBA/ABA history.” And there he is – Julius Erving, a completely different player from Garnett but with comparable numbers and matching milestones.
Erving’s NBA-only stats are solid: 18,364 points, 5,601 rebounds, 3,224 assists, 1,508 steals and 1,293 blocks in 11 seasons. But The Doctor spent his first five seasons interning in the ABA, playing 407 of his eventual 1,243 games. And his numbers there were staggering: 28.7 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.0 bpg.
Add the totals to his NBA work and Erving’s line is: 30,026 points, 10,525 rebounds, 5,176 assists, 2,272 steals and 1,941 blocks in 16 seasons.
Erving, somewhat neglected himself in “all-time” talk, is remembered as one of the game’s great artists and ambassadors, revealing a nasty streak only at the end of his highlight throw-downs. Garnett is known as one of the most competitive, cantankerous and crude blast furnaces to roam the NBA’s courts, with a far greater defensive inclination.
It elevates both of them to share this particular achievement.